Thomas Francis, Prince of Carignano

Thomas Francis, Prince of Carignano bigraphy, stories - Founder of the Savoy-Carignano branch of the House of Savoy

Thomas Francis, Prince of Carignano : biography

21 December 1596 – 22 January 1656

Thomas Francis, Prince of Carignano by [[Antony van Dyck.]] Thomas Francis of Savoy (Italian Tommaso Francesco di Savoia, Principe di Carignano, French Thomas François de Savoie, Prince de Carignan; 21 December 1596 – 22 January 1656) was an Italian military commander, the founder of the Savoy-Carignano branch of the House of Savoy which reigned as kings of Sardinia from 1831 to 1861, and as kings of Italy from 1861 until the dynasty’s deposition in 1946.

Public career

Early actions and service with Spain

Thomas’ first recorded service is as a commander in the Piedmontese army under his father in the war against France in 1630 (see War of the Mantuan Succession). It was probably around this time that he first encountered Mazarin, who (though his public position was quite complex) was during 1630-32 in effect a French agent at the Piedmontese court. When the new Duke Victor Amadeus I was forced to accept a French occupation of Pinerolo (Peace of Cherasco, 26 April 1631, and associated secret agreements, implemented 1632), there was widespread dissatisfaction in Piedmont, and Thomas, with his brother Maurice, went to join the Spanish, at which Victor Amadeus confiscated their revenues. (The exact date of the move is unstated, but was probably 1632, certainly no later than 1634.) Though welcomed by the Spanish given that he was related to both the French and Spanish royal families, Thomas was not entirely trusted by them, and had to send his wife and children to Madrid as hostages.

Spain, during the burst of confidence after its unexpected great victory at Nordlingen in 1634, made plans for major operations in Germany to end the war against the Protestants there and in the Netherlands; these plans included Thomas leading an army in Westphalia, under the overall command of the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand, brother of Philip IV. Nothing came of this, but in 1635, when France declared war on Spain (Franco-Spanish war of 1635-59), Thomas served under Ferdinand in the Spanish Netherlands: he was given command of a small army (variously given as 8,500 or 13,000) sent against French forces that had advanced into Luxemburg, his orders either to observe them or to prevent them from joining up with a Dutch army. On 22 May 1635 at Les Avins, south of Huy, in what was then the bishopric of Liège, he was completely defeated and his army entirely killed, captured or scattered – the first in an unbroken career of military defeat. He managed to rally the remnants at Namur, then retreated before the numerically-superior French and Dutch forces; and he probably served the rest of the campaign with Ferdinand. Late in the year, the refugee Charles IV, Duke of Lorraine arrived in Brussels and met Thomas; they may have formed a joint court, and Thomas certainly participated in jousts organised by the Duke. (In this Franco-Spanish war, Piedmont was reluctantly dragged into the fighting alongside the French, though initially it avoided a full declaration of war; consequently, Thomas was technically fighting against his own homeland.)

In 1636, the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand organised a joint Spanish-Imperialist army for a major invasion of France from the Spanish Netherlands, and Thomas was initially in charge, though Ferdinand soon took over supreme command. The invasion was initially very successful, and seemed capable of reaching Paris, where there was a great panic; if Ferdinand and Thomas had pushed on, they might have ended the war at this point, but they both felt that continuing to Paris was too risky, so they stopped the advance. Later in the campaign, Thomas had problems with the Imperialist general Ottavio Piccolomini, who refused to accept orders from the Prince as a Spanish commander, arguing that his Imperialist troops were an independent force. Military action for Thomas is not recorded in 1637, but in this year, when his brother-in-law Soissons fled from France after his failed conspiracy against Cardinal Richelieu, he acted as intermediary between Soissons and the Spanish in negotiations which led to a formal alliance between the count and Philip IV of Spain concluded 28 June 1637 – although within a month Soissons had reconciled with France! In 1638, Thomas served in Spanish Flanders, helping to defend the fortress-city of Saint-Omer against a French siege; in mid-June, he managed to get reinforcements into the place, then with the rest of his small army entrenched about 15 km. to the north-west at Ruminghem, opposite the French army under Jacques-Nompar de Caumont, duc de la Force at Zouafques; after being joined by Imperialist reinforcements under Ottavio Piccolomini, he marched to attack La Force, and was defeated with the loss of 2,000 men killed or captured (action at Zouafques, exact date unknown but around 21 June). However, he then marched back with his remaining troops to the continuing French siege of Saint-Omer, where he put in more reinforcements and then entrenched himself so securely in the vicinity that the French found it impossible to continue the siege and gave up. Thomas and Piccolimini subsequently stuck so close to La Force that the French were unable to undertake any serious operations.